Gesenius Hebrew Grammar (GKC)

Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar is an essential tool for any serious biblical scholar. In its various editions, it was the most important reference grammar for almost two centuries and remains invaluable to scholars today.

However, Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar is not a tool for beginners. If you are just starting to learn Biblical Hebrew, you should use an introductory grammar. Trying to use Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar before you are familiar with the basics of Biblical Hebrew grammar will likely leave you feeling overwhelmed.

The text of Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar is also sometimes difficult to understand. Even intermediate and more advanced scholars may find Joüon-Muraoka’s A Grammar of Biblical Hebrew and/or Waltke-O’Connor’s An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax easier to use.

History of Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar

Wilhelm Gesenius originally published his Hebrew Grammar as Hebräische Grammatik in 1813. (He was 27 at the time. His age at publication seems to make all other scholars look like underachievers in comparison).

Emil Kautzsch made additions and revisions to Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar published in several different editions in the late 19th century. The Hebrew Grammar was then translated into English by Arthur Cowley 1910.

Because of the contributions of these three scholars, the 1910 English edition is often referred to as Gesenius Kautzsch Cowley, or GKC for short (GKC can also be referred to as simply “Gesenius”). The 1910 edition is still widely used today.

Layout of Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar (GKC)

GKC is organized into 3 sections, including phonology, morphology, and syntax. (Traditionally, grammars had a fourth section, a lexicon. Gesenius completed this section in 1833 with his Lexicon Manuale (in Latin) which would be the starting point for BDB).

Phonology is about the vocalization of a language. It explains the rules about how Biblical Hebrew would have been pronounced. This is the smallest section within the grammar.

Morphology is about what goes into making a word in a language. Remember that in Hebrew all words have a root and a pattern. Morphology thus explains the patterns/forms of nouns and verbs. Included in this section are conjugations of verbs, explanations on masculine/feminine nouns, pronominal suffixes, and much more information. The section is quite large.

Syntax concerns the meaning of words or phrases within sentences. It explains verbal tenses (not how to form the verbs, but what a specific verbal form might signify), sentence structures, relationships between words (such as construct state), and many other features of Biblical Hebrew syntax. This section is also quite large.

How to use Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar (GKC)

You should never sit down and try to read GKC from cover to cover. Doing so would only be a bit more interesting than reading a phone book. Instead, you should consult GKC if you encounter an unusual feature or problem within a biblical text that you don’t know how to solve.

General tips for using Gesenius Hebrew Grammar:

  • There are two main ways to search GKC for a solution to a textual problem. You can either browse the table of contents for the topic that seems most relevant to your issue, or you can use one of the indexes. You should probably start with the indexes.
  • GKC has three indexes: “Index of Subjects,” “Index of Hebrew words and forms,” and “Index of Passages.” The easiest way to begin is to look through the “Index of Passages” and see if the particular verse you are having difficulty with is in GKC. If so, you are lucky. Otherwise, you will have to do some hunting.
  • If you do find a section in GKC that addresses the textual problem that you have, you should not try to start reading a paragraph mid chapter. Instead, you should go back to the beginning of a chapter to figure out what the whole chapter is about. Then focus on the paragraph that is particularly relevant to your text.
  • Finally, if the information in GKC is so helpful that you want to use it in an academic essay or article, it is customary to cite paragraph numbers and letters (i.e. GKC § 42a) rather than specific page numbers.

Often, half the difficulty in using GKC (and Joüon-Muraoka) is figuring out the linguistic term for the textual problem that you have. Waltke O’Connor includes a glossary of linguistic terms that can be very helpful in determining the appropriate linguistic term.

Where to find Gesenius

Several versions of Gesenius are available online.

  • At present the version on wikisource is still incomplete:

  • The University of Toronto has a PDF version and an online searchable version as well.

  • Bibleworks, Accordance, Logos usually have Gesenius included free in their programs.

Final Verdict

Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar is a classic grammar of Biblical Hebrew that remains an essential tool for serious biblical scholarship today. Although becoming accustomed to using GKC can take substantial time and effort,  Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar is more than worth it.

Information about purchasing Gesenius can be found by clicking on the image below. Or learn about other biblical hebrew grammars.

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